I've always felt a little sorry for John Boehner. In another era—a non-tea party era—he would have been your basic Main Street Republican, willing to cut compromises to keep the country moving along in a tolerably orderly way. The kind of guy who would have taken his cues from the Middletown Rotary Club.
Speaking of which, Boehner spoke to the Middletown Rotary Club yesterday and let his hair down. For most Republicans, this would have meant getting caught making some kind of incendiary remarks about Obama thuggery and class warfare against job creators. In Boehner's case, it meant some incendiary remarks about the, um, unrealistic attitudes of the more excitable members of his caucus:
On immigration: "Here's the attitude. Ohhhh. Don't make me do this. Ohhhh. This is too hard," Boehner whined before a luncheon crowd at Brown's Run County Club in Madison Township. "We get elected to make choices. We get elected to solve problems and it's remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don't want to ... They'll take the path of least resistance."
On Obamacare: "(To) repeal Obamacare ... isn't the answer. The answer is repeal and replace. The challenge is that Obamacare is the law of the land. It is there and it has driven all types of changes in our health care delivery system. You can't recreate an insurance market over night."
On the tea party: "I don't have any issue with the tea party. I have issues with organizations in Washington who raise money purporting to represent the tea party, those organizations who are against a budget deal the president and I cut that will save $2.4 trillion over 10 years....I made it pretty clear I'll stand with the tea party but I'm not standing with these three or four groups in Washington who are using the tea party for their own personal benefit."
This is all about pragmatism, a cri de coeur against the Foxification of the Republican Party. And I guess it means one of two things. Either Boehner doesn't really care much about holding onto his leadership position anymore, or else he's sensed that there's a burgeoning Main Street backlash against the radicalism of the tea party wing of the modern GOP.
Boehner has always wanted to govern, and he's never believed that compromise was surrender. That's not the kind of pol he is. But he's been hemmed in by the demands of the tea party, and now maybe he's starting to think it's time to bust out. The Middletown Rotary Club is probably more interested in keeping things on an even keel than in endless confrontation and hostage taking that does nothing except hurt the economy. They think immigration reform is good for business, and even if they don't like Obamacare, they probably understand by now that it's not a catastrophe and it's time to make the best of it. Maybe they're finally starting to find their voice.